Photos by Veronica Baker
A family-friendly pride festival in Toulouse, France, this past week started out upbeat, with a reggae band and UNICEF dance routine to MGMT, but quickly went south when a large group of counter-demonstrators—mostly older people in sweaters and slacks who’d come to defend the “traditional” institution of marriage—congregated on the other side of town to protest.
"La Manif Pour Tous" is a reactionary French activist group, providing an umbrella for the various entities and interests that want to oppose gay marriage without being accountable to it. One of La Manif’s most powerful supporters, the right-wing VITA Alliance, were the organizers of the first large anti-gay demonstration in France in October, and remain a major force in this steadily-growing community of antigay resistance.
La Manif anti-gay protesters on their way to Capital Plaza.
French President François Hollande ran on a campaign of promising to legalize gay marriage. Currently in France there is a form of civil union that does not permit adoption and is essentially worthless. A gay marriage bill came up in the National Assembly in October and will be voted on soon. Sensing that the bill will easily pass, La Manif and VITA Alliance are staging their mass protests and demanding that the issue be put to a nationwide referendum.
The La Manif protesters snaked through the narrow roads of Toulouse, throwing confetti and blasting pop-music, trying to out-pride the pride fest. As La Manif approached the gay protesters, a crowd of over 4,000 gay rights supporters came face to face with the balloon-carrying bigots. The only thing preventing an all-out brawl was a line of riot cops and the interlocked arms of 30 neon-vested rent-a cops La Manif had brought along with for protection.
During the inital clash with police, riot shields, pepper spray, and mace were used to push back the gay rights supporters. Like a Civil War battle, when one row got sprayed, they would fall back, and the next row of supporters stepped forward to take their dose of capsaican in the name of égalité.
After the pepper spray canisters were emptied there was a brief lull in the action. Everyone could sense that something big was about to happen. Then the gay rights protesters began making out and dancing while the La Manif bigots brought in a flatbed truck loaded down with massive speakers. And then, bizarrely, the antigay protesters started to blast a mixture of dubstep, Skrillex, and Black-Eyed Peas into the crowd, and push forward.
A pro-gay-marriage protester doing a striptease in front of the police.
Construction barriers were ripped up in an attempt to cage the police and La Manif. The police started shooting rubber bullets. A massive crowd of pro-gay protesters ran through the street, dodging rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. One brave man grabbed a hose from a construction site and blasted the police with water.
The booming music, cracks of exploding shells, and cheers of encouragement for the police from La Manif gave the scene a surreal feeling. I looked down at a puddle of blood while Flo-Rida's track blasted from La Manif’s truck, "OHH SOMETIMES I’VE GOT A GOOD FEELING, YEAH!!!!"
At the first anti-gay protest in Toulouse in October, La Manif was unchallenged. They probably assumed they would be met unchallenged a second time. But the gay rights protesters held the ground they had been beaten and bled for. La Manif made one final announcement and then were escorted out of the plaza. The plaza has not been cleaned up yet. Used gas cans and rubber bullet shells still litter the ground, and there is a stain where the pool of blood was. I say leave it as a reminder—a reminder that the people of Tolousse will take a rubber bullet to the stomach to stand together in solidarity against the bigoted assaults on France’s gay community.